The Borrowers by Mary Norton

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The Borrowers dates back to 1952, but the concept is so clever that you wonder why nobody thought of it before then.

The Clock family, Pod, Homily and their daughter Arrietty, are a family of tiny people who live beneath the floorboards of a country house. Everything that they have is “borrowed” from “human beans”, who are completely unaware where so many little things – things like hairslides, safety pins, paperclips, blotting paper and stamps – are going.

The family feel safe and secure in its home. The entrance is hidden behind a series of gates made from safety pins and hairslides. They are comfortable too, with blotting paper for carpet and postage stamps adorning the walls.

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But for young Arrietty being safe is also being trapped, and she longs to go out and discover the world that she an only watch through a grating.

Pod and Homily have reservations. Understandably, as they remember cousin Eggletina who ventured out and was never seen again. Eventually though they do allow Arrietty to accompany her father on borrowing trips.

It is on one of those trips Arrietty does something she is told she must never do. She is “seen” and she makes friends with a human boy.

After that life for the Clocks will never be quite the same.

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“The Borrowers” is a perfectly constructed and paced story. It is well framed by the boy’s sister, years later, telling her brother’s story to a child and she tells that story simply and in clear prose that really draws you in.

The world beneath the floorboards is brought to life quite wonderfully. The detail is lovely – and so clever.

And the characters are marvellous creations too. You will empathise with all of them and you certainly will have met fathers like Pod, mothers like Homily and daughters like Arrietty.

This is a book that has stood up to the passage of time and re-reading as an adult. It definitely deserves to be called a classic.

6 responses

  1. What a great re-telling of this story. My two daughters loved this book when they were children. I had forgotten about it. For the longest time we called everybody “human beans”. I’m going to pass this on to my oldest daughter who now has two daughters of her own. Thanks for the memory.

  2. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: February 28, 2008 at Semicolon

  3. “The Borrowers” is an awesome book. But you guys do realize that there are 5 books in this series? Each one arguably better than the one before. I’ve read them all two or three times as an adult. When I was a kid, I had to keep getting them back from my dad, who used to read them in the bathroom (I just realized how nasty that is).

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